Vesterålen in the Arctic archipelago – a wonderful place for both locals and tourists
By Alyssa Nilsen | Photos: Visit Vesterålen
T he north-western archipelago in Norway is the ideal location for adventures and breathtaking nature experiences. The fjords, the tropical-looking beaches, the snowy mountains and the lush islands make up a beautiful quilt of colours and shades, and the proximity to the gulf stream allows for a multitude of life at sea and on land.
At the heart of it all is Vesterålen, a district aiming to be the perfect destination for locals and tourists alike. Despite its location north of the Polar Circle, it has a mild climate compared to most places at the same latitude. As a result, visiting and experiencing the area and all it has to offer is possible all year through.
Whether you’re into winter sports or animal spotting or you just enjoy surrounding yourself with scenic nature, there are plenty of offers to choose between.
Whales and wildlife
Vesterålen is one of the few places in the world where you can go whale spotting all year round. In Andenes, north on the island of Andøya, you can experience whale safaris with a whale-spotting guarantee; if no whales are spotted, you get your money back. Due to the non-invasive methods of approaching the whales, you get to see the giants of the sea up close, without inflicting harm or stress.
Go in the summer and see the majestic animals in the glow of the midnight sun; or go in the winter, and you might be lucky and experience them under the magical northern lights. In addition, the local wildlife includes reindeer, red foxes, seals, moose and a plethora of birds, including several rare species.
In 2023, a brand-new whale centre will be ready at Andøya, with a design so eye-catching it has already received international recognition. Lonely Planet describes it as “Norway’s next stunning visitor attraction”, whereas My Modern Met praises the way it “emerges in the Arctic Circle blending architecture and environment”. When finished, the museum will look like whale flukes rising out of the ground.
If you want to see as much of the area as possible, why not opt for a hike along the coast? With 180 easily accessible, marked hiking routes, you can experience Vesterålen’s breathtaking nature up close. Depending on your level of experience, you can choose a route that fits you, from an easy stroll to a more challenging hike.
One of the more demanding hikes is Dronningruta (‘the Queen’s Route’), a five-to-eight-hour round trip between the two fishing villages of Stø and Nyksund. For an even higher trek, the Møysalen hike takes you all the way up to 1,262 metres above sea level. Møysalen is the highest mountain in Vesterålen and was voted Norway’s Most Splendid Nature Experience in 2009.
But even if you don’t want the challenge of the Dronningruta or Møysalen hikes, other routes through the fishing villages are well worth the trip. Nyksund was one of the largest fishing communities in Vesterålen in the early 1900s, with 127 permanent residents. The village was deserted in 1975 and left as a ghost village for nearly a decade, until an international youth project revived it in the 1980s, followed by active culture and tourism development. Once again, the town is now thriving with activities and life, and its permanent residents have filled it with art galleries, eateries and overnight facilities.
But not only tourists benefit from these routes; the area has also recently noticed a large increase in use by locals. “When facilitating the routes and the general area for locals, we try to be conscious of simultaneously facilitating tourism,” says tourism director for Visit Vesterålen, Astrid Berthinussen. “We want to promote Vesterålen as a good place to live as well as a good place to visit.”
Community and tourism also blend at the home of the Inga Family, a Sami family combining traditional reindeer husbandry with tourist experiences, giving people a glimpse into their lives, culture and history. Visitors also get to learn about reindeer and herding, sample food made out of reindeer meat, and enjoy the traditional form of song, the ‘joik’.
Thriving communities are an important part of the area’s plans for the immediate as well as distant future, ensuring that Vesterålen is as good a place to live as it is to visit as a tourist. Through the initiative Sustainable Growth Towards 2025, activities, hiking routes, museums and nature experiences are meant to improve the area for the locals as much as they’re meant to attract tourists. Increased year-round tourism creates more jobs, making for a vibrant local community.
Vesterålen is also the birth place of the iconic cruise ship Hurtigruten, sailing along the Norwegian coastline carrying locals, tourists and freight through the archipelagos and the fjords. A spectacular attraction is currently being built in Stokmarknes, where a glass building is being raised around the retired Hurtigruten ship Finnmarken, turning it into a museum and protecting it from the elements. This is due to open in the summer.
Whether you’re a visitor or an inhabitant of Vesterålen, magnificent sights and experiences await right outside the door.
For more information on whale safaris in Vesterålen, head to: Hvalsafari AS, Andenes: www.whalesafari.no Sea Safari Andenes: www.seasafariandenes.no Arctic Whale Tours: www.arcticwhaletours.com www.visitvesteralen.no
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